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Betsy DeVos Opens Up ESSA Pilot Allowing Federal Money to Follow Students


School districts: Interested in having your local, state, and federal funding follow children, so that kids with greater need have more money attached to them? Now's your chance. 

The U.S. Department of Education is officially opening up the "Weighted Student Funding Pilot" in the Every Student Succeeds Act. The department can allow up to 50 districts to participate initially, and ESSA leaves open the possibility of opening that up to more districts down the line.

So what's the weighted student funding pilot? Participating districts can combine federal, state, and local dollars into a single funding stream tied to individual students. English-language learners, kids in poverty, students in special education—who cost more to educate—would carry with them more money than other students. Some districts, including Denver, are already using this type of formula with state and local dollars.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is pretty excited about the pilot.

"This is a great opportunity for local district leaders to put students first," she said in a statement. "Instead of relying on complex federal rules to allocate funds, local leaders can use this flexibility to match funds—local, State or Federal—to the needs of students." 

DeVos and her team have been especially interested in the pilot, pretty much from the time they took office. That could be because, in theory, adopting a weighted student funding formula could make it easier for districts to operate school choice programs, since money would be tied to individual students and could therefore follow them to charter or virtual public schools. Importantly, though, districts that opt to participate in the pilot don't necessarily have to use it to further school choice. (More on the pilot's potential for choice here.)

What are the deadlines for districts? The application will be available for download from the department's website on February 7, 2018. (That's next week). Completed applications can be submitted to [email protected].  

Districts that are hoping to use the flexibility in the 2018-19 school year must submit their applications by March 12. Districts that are aiming to get going in the 2019-20 school year need to get their applications in by July 15.

Applications will be approved on a rolling basis. Districts can submit further questions to [email protected].  

Are there any resources attached to participating in the pilot? Not right now. In last year's budget request, DeVos and company asked for an extra $1 billon in Title I grants for disadvantaged kids, which districts could use for public school choice. It wasn't clear if that was tied to the pilot, but policy wonks thought it was a possibility. Congress, though, nixed the request. It's possible that the department could try again with their next budget ask, for fiscal year 2019.

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here's some useful information:

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